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Saturday, June 2, 2012

AATF enters deal with Japan Tobacco on rice varieties

In order to develop varieties of rice in sub-Saharan Africa, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) has signed a license agreement with Japan Tobacco (JT), a leading international tobacco product company.

The license, as revealed in a press statement made available to NaijaAgroNet, would enable smallholder farmers in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Uganda to use JT's transformation technology to develop new rice varieties.

The project which seeks to address major constraints facing rice production in Sub-Sahara Africa region is tagged 'Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Use Efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice Project.' Japan Tobacco would also offer free technology in support of humanitarian aid projects.

Commenting on the agreement, AATF Executive Director, Dr. Denis Kyetere affirmed that slow growth in domestic rice production has contributed to the low output achieved by farmers in the region.

“Several factors are responsible for the low rice production. However, nitrogen deficiency and drought have been cited as leading constraints to upland rice production, while high salinity is increasingly becoming a major problem in many rice growing areas of Africa,” he noted.

NaijaAgroNet recollects that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) once revealed that rice production in the region has stagnated at about 14.5 million tonnes per year, which is against the annual consumption of 21 million tonnes, hence the need to boost production.

The license, JT’s Chief Strategy Officer, Mr. Masamichi Terabatake said would also enable the use of JT's plant transformation technology for monocot species, PureIntro; developing and deploying the nitrogen efficient, water efficient, and salt tolerant rice products, free of royalties.

PureIntro is an agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation technology that is recognized worldwide as de facto standard for monocot transformation, which reduces development costs and time.

Additionally, PureIntro has been licensed by JT to more than 50 private and public entities worldwide for numerous monocots including maize, rice, wheat, barley, sorghum, sugarcane, switchgrass, miscanthus, forage and turf.

JT’s plant biotechnology is independently managed from its core businesses including its tobacco business and food business, thus not applied to its product development conducted within those businesses.

AATF launched the NEWEST Rice for Africa Project in 2008 with the objective to transform some varieties of the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) to improve their productivity in nitrogen-poor soils.

Experts say, provision of smallholder rice famers with higher yielding varieties are well adapted to the upland and lowland rice-growing areas in Africa, which also is another goal for establishing NEWEST.

Other partners in this private public partnership include Arcadia Biosciences who are providing access to traits that confer nitrogen use efficiency, water use efficiency and salt tolerance. The University of California is donating required plant transformation technologies. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the national agricultural research institutes of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda will conduct the necessary field trials to test the performance of the new varieties.
The project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and will initially be implemented over a 10-year period.
Yinka Awosanya/LS
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